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Celtic Kingdoms of the British Isles

Celts of Cymru

 

 

 

MapCernyw / Glywyssing

The small Celtic kingdom of Cernyw was, according to tradition, founded out of a western chunk of the former Silures territory around AD 437, by Eugenius, the son of High King Magnus Maximus. This was the most Romanised area of Wales, and many early rulers bore Romanised names (which are shown ahead of the later Welsh forms of their names in the text below). However, if the territory of Eugenius had a Romanised name, it has long been lost. Instead it was known only as the 'Kingdom of Mid-South Wales' by later chroniclers. It may have been formed of Cernyw and Ewyas, but the apparent separation of Ewyas around 440 is probably what caused Cernyw to appear as a kingdom in its own right. Prior to that it may have been more of a protectorate or a frontier zone in the style of the Saxon Shore.

Despite the legend that claims that the death of Eugenius was due to a ferocious battle with a giant, it is likely, given his geographical position, that he died in battle against Irish raiders. Cernyw was situated west of Gwent (which was partly formed of old Ewyas) and its name is often confused with the Corniu of western Dumnonia (later Cornwall). By the time Claudius (Glwys in Welsh) came to power, Cernyw had certainly shrunk to the area that formed the later and better attested kingdom of Glywyssing, and was renamed as such in Glwys' honour. The earliest form of the name may have been Glywyssion, or perhaps Glywyssiog, but Glywyssing is the medieval name, and its modern version is Glywysg.

The kingdom comprised three main regions, probably created with the same borders as their preceding Roman cantrefs: Gwynllg (the far eastern part of Glywyssing); Penychen (the centre), and Gorfynedd (the westernmost section). They were often ruled almost as separate kingdoms, or sub-kingdoms, with one of the three rulers filling the role of nominal overlord. The customs and traditions of the region's people would have been part-Roman and part-Silures, a mix that was perhaps similar as in regions such as Caer Baddan or Ebrauc. The hill fort of Dinas Powis (or Dinas Powys in its later form) lay within Cernyw's territory. It also lay in a more-or-less straight alignment with the hill fort of Brent Knoll across the Bristol Channel, Glastonbury Tor, and Cadbury Castle. They probably formed part of a chain of communications before the coming of the Romans.

(Additional information by Hywel George and Edward Dawson, and from External Link: Period Welsh Models for SCA Households and the Nomenclature Thereof.)

c.383 - c.440

Eugenius / Owain Finddu (Black Lips)

'King of Mid-South Wales'. Son of High King Magnus Maximus.

c.420

Immediately prior to Vortigern's apparent rise to power as High King, the country is subjected to raids along its coastline. In the west, Irish raiders sail up the Severn and seize a large amount of booty in the form of corn, cattle and anything else they can grab, including sons and daughters. They are also credited with kidnapping the young St Patrick from the College of Theodosius (at Llantwit Major, which would place the raid within the territory of mid-south Wales, in the region of Gorfynedd).

Magnus Maximus coin
Two sides of a coin issued in Britain under the command of Magnus Maximus, which would have remained in circulation until at least the second decade of the fifth century

c.430

By this time, although Ewyas may still form part of the territory of mid-south Wales under the 'protector', Eugenius, it appears to fall under the control of High King Vortigern, now the most powerful man in Britain (and traditionally held to be the brother-in-law of Eugenius). He grants the territory to his eldest son, Vortimer, and the new kingdom emerges as Gwent. According to tradition it is Eugenius himself who renames the remainder of his territory as Cernyw (around 437), but it may also be a later recognition of the loss of the eastern territory, perhaps under Marius.

c.440

Despite apparently holding the territory under his command in relative safety for up to forty years, Eugenius meets his end in battle, probably against Irish raiders. His son, Marius, succeeds him in ruling what is now in the process of becoming the kingdom of Cernyw, rather than a possible protectorate or Romanised territory of mid-south Wales.

In some literature, Cadell Ddyrnllwg of the Pagenses is claimed to be responsible for sending 'out a branch into Glywyssing' (Glywyssing being the later name for Cernyw), which would suggest that he places a family member on its throne. It seems an unlikely claim given the hereditary nature of the succession in Cernyw, but perhaps the line of succession here has been manipulated to show a direct descent from the greater figure of Eugenius.

c.440 - c.450s

Marius / Mor

Son. Protector of Cernyw in the Roman sense, rather than a king.

c.443

Dumnonia is divided by Constantine Corneu, with the main kingdom going to his son Erbin. Cornubia is governed as a sub-kingdom by Erbin's younger brother, Merchion. The Latin form of his name is probably Marcianus, which is linked to Marius of Cernyw. However, there seems to be no sign in Cernyw of a son called March or Mark (who certainly seems to have existed later in Cornubia), so perhaps the two are separate figures who have been linked by mistake.

c.450s

Congar / Cyngar

Son. Apparently emigrated to Armorica and ruled Cornouaille.

fl c.470

Solor

Brother. King of Cernyw, perhaps the first to assume this title.

c.470s?

Claudius succeeds to the kingdom, although he is better known by the later Welsh version of his name, Glwys Cernyw, or even St Glwys. He may have been born in Caer Gloui (due to the similarity between the names), and is commonly believed to be the source of the origin of the kingdom's better known name of Glywysyg. He supposedly marries Gnawl, daughter of King Ceretic of Ceredigion, and the couple have twenty sons and one daughter. The daughter, Dyfwn, marries Meurig ap Caradog of Gwent, sowing the seeds of later unity between the two kingdoms. Claudius may also be the source of the Arthurian character of Sir Cligés.

FeatureWhile studying the naming conventions for many of the smaller Welsh kingdoms, Heather Rose Jones agrees with the idea that Glywyssing originates from 'Glywys' which has the root 'Gly-' from Glevum (Caer Gloui) plus the Welsh derivative (-wys) of the Latin suffix '-ensis', meaning roughly 'the inhabitants of a region'. This delivers the meaning of Glywyssing as 'the land of the inhabitants of the land of Glevum' suggesting perhaps that residents from Glevum end up here in the dark years before the victory of Mons Badonicus. However, Jones is of the opinion that Glwys himself is a later invention to account for the kingdom's name, which would suggest that Glevum conquers Cernyw, perhaps under the leadership of Claudius, and founds its own kingdom in its place.

fl c.480

Claudius / Glewisus / Glwys Cernyw

Son. King of Glywyssing. Kingdom renamed after him.

c.480

Upon the death of Claudius, the kingdom is divided between his three sons. This is highly traditional Celtic practice, but it often serves to weaken territory, laying it open to piecemeal conquest, increased raiding, or internecine conflict. In this case, the kingdom is divided into its three constituent regions, Gwynllg, Penychen, and Gorfynedd.

MapGwynllg & Edeligion, Penychen & Gorfynedd (Glywyssing)

The British kingdom of Glywyssing was a late fifth century renaming of Cernyw, which itself had grown out of the Roman-created territory of mid-south Wales. The kingdom comprised three main regions, probably created with the same borders as their preceding Roman cantrefs. Gwynllg formed the far eastern part of Glywyssing, bordering Gwent and generally (although not entirely) divided from it by the River Usk, with a capital at Allt Wynllyw on Stow Hill (in Newport). It was known in later stories as the cantred of Wentloog (a later Anglicised form of Gwynllg, which has the same sound). Penychen formed the central region of Glywyssing, being divided from Gwynllg by Afan Elerch (the River Elerch or Eleirch), otherwise known as the Greater Rumney, which was ruled from Nant Pawl. Gorfynedd was the westernmost section, the territory including the Gower Peninsula, which was ruled from Llaniltud Fawr (Llantwit Major) and which had suffered an Irish raid around AD 420.

The three regions were often ruled almost as separate kingdoms, or sub-kingdoms, with one of the three rulers filling the role of nominal overlord, but in this period they were fully independent of one another, being ruled by the three sons of Claudius of Cernyw. Their names appear to reflect a decline in the Romanisation of the region and a return to more traditional values. A fourth region is also claimed, that of Edeligion, which was ruled by another son of Claudius and which was located in the very east of Glywyssing. It appears to have been short-lived and was probably quickly absorbed into Gwynllg.

(Additional information by Hywel George.)

c.480 - 523

St Gundleus / Gwynlliw Farfog / Woolos

Eldest son of Claudius. King of Gwynllg & overlord of Glywyssing.

c.480

Gundleus of Gwynllg (later known as Gwynlliw Farfog, the warrior), holds court at Caerfule (Castrum Buleum) in 'the area of Newport'. Despite an early life reputed to be filled with warring and piracy, in later life he founds the church of Gwynlliw in Newport, which is consecrated in the name of St Mary and is later incorporated into St Woolos Cathedral of the Celtic Church in Newport (Woolos is an English approximation of his name).

c.480 - c.540

Pawl

Brother. King of Penychen. Left the kingdom to his nephew.

fl c.500

'Mad' Marcianus / Merchwyn Vesanus

Brother. King of Gorfynedd.

fl c.480 - 500?

Edelig

Brother. King of Edeligion.

523

The death of Gundleus of Gwynllg in this year (although the year 500 is given as an alternative) sees his son, Catocus, succeed him. The territory or perhaps sub-kingdom of Edeligion receives little mention in tradition, so its ruler probably dies relatively early. Edeligion becomes part of Gwynllg and is soon forgotten.

During his lifetime, Edelig is notable for one action, that of donating land to St Cybi so that two churches can be founded, at Llangybi-on-Usk and Llanddyfrwyr-yn-Edeligion, after the king tries and fails to have the saint ejected from the kingdom.

523 - 580

Catocus / St Cadwg Ddoeth (the Wise)

Son of Gundleus. King of Gwynllg & Penychen. Killed by English.

Madge / St Maches

Sister. A humble shepherdess, killed by sheep robbers c.520.

c.540

The death of the heirless Pawl of Penychen sees his kingdom pass to his nephew, Catocus. The young king is therefore able to unite the eastern and central parts of Glywyssing, although it appears that they retain their names, perhaps while the third region, Gorfynedd remains independent.

St Cadwg Ddoeth
St Cadwg Ddoeth was arguably the most famous of Glywyssing's sons from this period

580 - c.755

FeatureAccording to tradition, Catocus has no heirs when he is killed during an enemy raid while he is church-building in Calchwynedd. He leaves his joint kingdom of Gwynllg & Penychen to his uncle by marriage, Meurig, king of Gwent which kingdom borders him to the east. It is possible that soon after, Meurig also gains Gorfynedd, as he is named as ruler of Gower, which falls within this region as the westernmost part of Glywyssing. The kingdom remains part of Gwent until Rhys ap Ithel of Gwent rules it as a separate kingdom (or perhaps a sub-kingdom).

MapGlywyssing

This Welsh kingdom had been divided into its three constituent territories in the late fifth century. During the course of the sixth century it was reunited in stages, but perhaps only after it had been gained through inheritance by the king of neighbouring Gwent, which lay to the immediate east of the kingdom. Gwent managed to hold onto it as part of a greatly enlarged single kingdom for around two centuries, but old habits died hard, and Glywyssing was hived off as a junior or sub-kingdom for one of the sons of Ithel ap Morgan, Rhys. Thereafter it seems to have remained relatively stable throughout the remainder of the eighth century and into the ninth.

(Additional information by Hywel George.)

745 - 775

Rhys ap Ithel

Son of King Ithel ap Morgan of Gwent.

fl c.780?

Meyryg ap Rhys

Son. Killed.

c.785?

According to tradition, Meyryg ap Rhys is a man of great cruelty. Despite founding a castle at Caerleon upon Usk and another at a place called Meigen cil Ceincoed, near the River Elerch or Romney, he is launched to his death from a high cliff by nobles for daring to molest a noble's daughter.

c.785 - c.825?

Arthfael Hen (the Old) ap Rhys

Brother. m Braustud, dau of Glowd ap Pasgen of Builth.

c.825 - c.830

Glywyssing is apparently taken back into Gwent, probably during the reign of Ithael. However, this is a brief change, and Arthfael's son, Rhys, soon appears to gain control of his birthright.

fl c.830s

Rhys ap Arthfael

Son.

c.840 - 886

Hywel ap Rhys

Son.

848

King Ithael of Gwent is killed in battle against King Elisedd ap Tewdr of Brycheiniog, perhaps sparking a feud that soon draws in Glywyssing's king, Hywel ap Rhys, who himself is a cousin of Ithael.

Castell Nos in Glamorgan
Castel Nos, a medieval fortress, was built above the forest to the east of Maerdy in Glywyssing by the Welsh lords of Meisgyn, descendants of the last king of Morgannwg

856 - 886

MapIn this period, Hywel comes into conflict with the king of Brycheiniog, Elisedd ap Tewdr, over the districts of Ystrad Yw (Crickhowell, now in southern Powys but seemingly inside the border of Brycheiniog in the ninth century) and the remnant of Ewyas (adjoining Ystrad-Yw, Gwent had succeeded to Ewyas before its subsequent division as Ergyng and then its loss to the Mercians by the ninth century).

The territories are claimed by Hywel as the rightful possession of Glywyssing (although the claim seems dubious, as only its eastern neighbour, Gwent, could lay any realistic claim to Ewyas, and Hywel's familial relationship to Gwent's still extant kings should not change this). Brycheiniog has already transferred its claim to those lands to Cadell, the king of South Wales (probably Cadell ap Rhodri of Seisyllwg, who also holds Builth), so Hywel is forced to relinquish his right to them and has to set the boundary of his kingdom at Ystrad Yw. It is here that boundary stones have been raised and the town and castle of Cerrig Hywel (Gerrig Hywel, or 'the stones of Hywel') has been constructed. The latter is later considered to be in Brycheiniog. This forms the boundary between Hywel and Cadell during the former's lifetime.

886 - c.930

Owain ap Hywel

Son. King of Glywyssing & Gwent.

c.920s - c.930

Rule of the kingdom of Gwent appears to pass to Owain ap Hywel shortly before his death. Then in 927 it becomes tributary to Æthelstan of the West Saxon united English kingdom along with Glywyssing itself. By about 930 it seems to be ruled by Morgan Hen Fawr, which makes him over-king of all of Glywyssing and Gwent under the new name of Morgannwg (modern Glamorgan), while his two brothers rule sub-kingdoms within former Glywyssing.

MapMorgannwg (Glamorgan)

The year 950 was a dramatic one for Wales. The death of Hywel Dda of Deheubarth, over-king of all Wales (or perhaps even High King, following the ancient tradition), left the country divided. While Hywel's sons, Owain, Rhun, Rhodri and Edwyn, took possession of his estates in South Wales, Iago and Ieuaf, the sons of Idwal Foel, seized North Wales as their birthright (Gwynedd and Powys). The two sides disagreed strongly over the break-up of a united Wales, but the joint kings of Gwynedd were strong enough to enforce their will. Glywyssing, which had retained its kings even during the reign of Hywel Dda, continued to govern itself independently, but now under the name of Morgannwg.

After succeeding his father as king of Glywyssing and Gwent around 930, the 'adventurer', Morgan the Old and the Great, renamed his combined territories of Glywyssing and Gwent after himself. The old cantrefs of Gwynllg, Penychen and Gorfynedd in the former were retained. However, Gwent regained its independence soon after Morgan's death, or perhaps even before it.

(Additional information by Hywel George.)

c.930 - 974

Morgan Hen Fawr (Old & Great)

King of Morgannwg (former Glywyssing & Gwent).

928 - 934

Griffith / Gruffydd ap Owain

Brother. King of Gower (Gwyr, formerly within Gorfynedd).

c.930 - 950

Cadogan / Cadwgan ap Owain

Brother. King of West Glywyssing.

c.955 - c.970

Gwent appears to regain its independence, either around 955 with the accession of Noe or about 970 when Arthfael becomes king there. The period is highly confusing when it comes to working out just who is ruling in Morgannwg, with power apparently being shared by brothers on occasion but also with some individuals being mentioned by some sources and not by others, leading to conflicting dating. Gwrgan especially is a mysterious figure, given a long reign (where he is shown) and fathering the kingdom's last ruler.

Glamorgan rams head pottery vessel
This thirteenth century pottery vessel was unearthed in the Vale of Glamorgan and is thought to indicate a thriving local craft, one which may have antecedents in Morgan's time

974 - c.983

Owain ap Morgan

Son of Morgan.

c.983? - c.990

Ithel Ddu ap Owain

Son. Possible co-ruler or king in Owain's place. Not always shown.

994 - 1030

Gwrgan

Not in all lists and rule is uncertain.

Neiniad ap Gwaithfoed?

Son-in-law. m Eva ferch Gwrgan (Eva daughter of Gwrgan).

c.990 - 1000

Rhys ap Owain

Son of Owain.

c.990 - c.1015

Hywel ap Owain

Brother and co-ruler. Retained his role under Rhydderch ap Iestyn.

c.990 - c.1015

Iestyn ap Owain / Jestyn

Brother and co-ruler.

c.1015 - 1033

Rhydderch ap Iestyn

Son. King of South Wales (1023). Slain by Irish, details unknown.

c.1015 - c.1043

Hywel ap Owain

Uncle and continued co-ruler since c.990.

1023

Deheubarth has long been under the dominion of Gwynedd, but when King Llywelyn ap Seisyll of Gwynedd dies unexpectedly, Rhydderch ap lestyn seizes the throne of Deheubarth by force, albeit holding onto it briefly before he is forced out.

1033 - 1055

Gruffydd ap Rhydderch

Son. King of South Wales (1045-1055). Killed in battle.

1045 - 1055

Gruffydd ap Rhydderch is able to seize Deheubarth from Gruffydd ap Llywelyn of Gwynedd and hold onto it for a decade until the tables are turned. With this act he controls all of south Wales, perhaps using the title of 'King of South Wales' to emphasise his sudden greatness.

1055 - 1063

Gruffydd ap Llywelyn of Gwynedd invades and conquers the kingdom, along with neighbouring Gwent, subjugating them both and drawing them directly under his control along with Deheubarth as part of a united Wales. Following his death, united Wales breaks up, and independent control of Morgannwg and Gwent is re-established. Morgannwg is seized and merged with Gwent as the greater Morgannwg that had been created by Morgan Hen Fawr around 930.

1063 - 1074

Cadwgan ap Meurig / Caducan

King of Greater Morgannwg (Glywyssing & Gwent). Deposed.

1063 - 1074

Caradoc / Caradog ap Gruffydd

Son of Gruffydd ap Rhydderch. Vassal of Gwent.

1074

Caradoc manages to overthrow Cadwgan and seize control of Morgannwg (Glywyssing and Gwent combined), which he rules for the remainder of his life. Control of Gwent is passed to his successor, Iestyn ap Gwrgan.

1074 - 1081

Caradoc / Caradog ap Gruffydd

Seized throne of Greater Morgannwg (Glywyssing & Gwent).

1081

Attempting to emulate the achievements of his father and grandfather and become king of south Wales, Caradoc drives Rhys ap Tewdwr Mawr of Deheubarth from his throne. He is immediately faced by the threat of that king returning in alliance with Gruffydd ap Cynan, who is pursuing his own claim for the throne of Gwynedd. Gruffydd also gains the cooperation of his nemesis in Gwynedd, Trahaern ap Caradog, and Meilir ap Rhiwallon of Powys. Caradoc is killed at the Battle of Mynydd Carn, as are Trahaern and Meilir, allowing Gruffydd to seize his birthright in Gwynedd and Rhys to regain Deheubarth.

1081 - 1093

Iestyn ap Gwrgant / Jestyn

Son of Gwrgan. Last king of Morgannwg.

1081

With a base of operations that is believed to be at Dinas Powis, to the south of Cardiff, Iestyn ap Gwrgant gains the throne following the death in battle of Caradoc.

1090

Morgannwg (and its eastern constituent, Gwent) is conquered by the Normans under Robert Fitzhamon, lord of Gloucester, given them control all of south-east Wales. The lowlands of Glywyssing become a lordship under Norman knights and their descendants, while a separate lordship is established in Gower. The mountainous inland regions remain unconquered.

Caradog ap Iestyn

Eldest son. First lord of Afan.

1093

With the death of Iestyn in the mountains, any claim of a surviving independent kingdom ends. Iestyn's eldest son does not pursue his own claim to the lost throne, instead accepting the Norman conquest as a fait accompli. He is allowed to retain lands between the River Neath and the River Afan, with the title 'Lords of Afan' being applied to his descendants. The mountainous regions remain unconquered for some time afterwards, but no attempts to reclaim the kingdom are launched from there. The lords of Meisgyn, descendants of the last king of Morgannwg, remain in command of the mountain above Maerdy, upon which they build Castell Nos.

Medieval Stow Hill
Medieval Newport was greatly expanded under its new Norman masters

The last of the Princes of Wales are killed in 1282, ending Welsh independence. The Morgannwg region is reformed as the county of Glamorgan after the marcher lordships are abolished in 1535 by Henry VIII of England. In 1644 the earldom of Glamorgan is created, and survives to this day, as does the lordship of Gower (the title is still used by the dukes of Beaufort).